Because I am a solitary wife this month, with he of the dreadlocks away for awhile in Johannesburg, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s post to the vagaries of marriage – or rather, marriage advice.
A recent Huffpost article titled “It’s the Intimacy, Stupid: 6 Steps for Women to Stamp Out Divorce” cropped up in my Facebook feed last week. In it, marriage help empire-builder Laura Doyle has good tips like adequate self-care, relinquishing controlling tendencies, being vulnerable and practicing gratitude. Unfortunately, she also tills that bizarre ground of so-called “submissive wives” who advocate Bible-based obedience to their 21st-century husbands.
“Lack of respect causes more divorces than cheating does because for men, respect is like oxygen. They need it more than sex,” Doyle announces.
This is right in line with “submissive” wives and their pastors who claim that women need love, but men need respect.
Here’s a novel idea. Quit looking at your spouse as another species. Some things I read about man/woman differences make me feel like I’m watching an over-produced Animal Planet special about monkeys of the world.
In my opinion, manuals telling us how to navigate the differences between men and woman have everything to do with what society trains us to think and do, and little to do with the messy work of being humans who share the same duvet.
I think many of my friends are happy with the view that catering to, or, as my friend put it, “leverag[ing]” gender differences is key to happy marriages.
They posted comments on the Doyle article link like “chances are good that husbands will be better served by ‘I’m proud/impressed at how you dealt with…’ and wives will be better served by ‘you make my world go round.’” Another friend, the author of the worthwhile book Marriage Moats, added that studies have proven 80% of women value love over respect, while 80% of men value respect over love.
For my part, beyond the questionable wisdom of stereotyping people by gender, I wonder what use there could possibly be in separating the practice of love from the practice of respect in a marriage. And how do you quantify such emotional terms into gender-defining statistics? And how do you know that two individuals wouldn’t view the same act, and one call it a gesture of love, and other call it a sign of respect? And even if most men do value respect over love, and most women would do without an equal measure of respect if they could just get some love, does that mean this preference is innate to men and women, or is it a pressure of cultural expectation?
And, as Doyle suggests, can most husbands really shrug off infidelity by thinking “well, at least she’s respectful”?
To me, the dogma that says respect your man but love your woman is just another way to reinforce active roles for men and passive roles for women: men get acclaim for what they do, while women are valued for their lovey-dovey state of being.
Don’t respect your husband because men need respect. Respect him because your husband is a person, and people need respect. Of course the same goes for respecting your wife. Try listening carefully to her opinion or complimenting her work ethic, and see if she doesn’t appreciate it as much as a kiss.
Or deride her expertise and ignore her hard work, and then get her to believe it when you say you love her.
Maybe if my marriage matched the stereotypes, I’d enjoy waving man/woman distinctions like 16th-century peace treaties sealed by royal betrothals.
But between my husband and I, one of us loves shopping and babies and the unrestrained verbal airing of daily events. The other is an emotionally bottled workaholic who can sit for hours in silence and abhors the mall. Guess who is who?
Devotees of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus would probably guess wrong.
Whatever self-help books and seminar leaders would have you believe, there’s no doctrine, statistic or gender-gap road map that ensures marital bliss, and one marriage should never be used as the metric for another. That might be the kind of secular millennial relativism that makes older generations’ hair stand on end, but with a grand total of five years of married life, and zero New York Times Bestselling relationship books to my name, my advice on marriage is this:
Think about what makes you feel loved and respected as a human being. Then, every day, imagine your spouse as a human being, too.